[You will notice that he never mentioned military cooperation with the West, even though it is an important element in charting Tajikistan’s course in the undefined space. I expect Tajikistan to be treated as a Russian front-line state in the coming hostilities or escalation of tensions with Washington.]
In the first of a two-part interview, the Tajik Foreign Minister, Hamrokhon Zarifi, speaks to New Europe about ever-improving relations between the European Union and Tajikistan, as well as the difficulties and opportunities that exist in the Central Asian region, as international troops prepare to leave Afghanistan.
New Europe: How can you characterise Tajik-EU co-operation today? What are the future prospects?
HZ: Our relations are based on the Partnership and Co-operation Agreement (PCA) signed with the EU, that came into force on 1 January 2010, and the first session of the Tajik-EU Co-opeartion Council has been held under this PCA at foreign minister level in December 2010 in Brussels, and in June 2011, President Emomali Rahmon began a European tour. We then succeeded in establishing regular regional political dialogue between the EU and central Asia at the level of foreign ministers,a s well as the EU-Tajik Dialogue on Human Rights, and inter-parliamentary co-operation between the two sides
Tajikistan pays special attention to relations with the EU, as this is among the priorities of Tajik foreign policy. We consider the EU as our critical international partner that contributes to democratic reforms, law supremacy, human rights, investments, socio-economic progress, energy, water resources management, regional co-operation and the war on drug trafficking; border management and fighting drug trafficking are among the most critical co-operation areas.
In general, the EU strategy for central Asia used to be the fundamental framework for our relations over the period 2007-2013, now we are interested in developing and adopting a new EU strategy for central Asia.
Moving on to Afghanistan. Do you think the withdrawal of troops will change Tajik-Afghan relations and possible destabilise the region? What diplomatic steps are being taken to ensure stability?
Tajik-Afghan relations are being developed in an atmosphere of a good-neighbourly and mutually-beneficial partnership, with regular political dialogue at the highest level with both bilateral and multilateral frameworks.
As for the withdrawal of international troops, it may indeed cause a worsening of the situation, therefore additional comprehensive measures are required to ensure prompt response to this, which may lead to the potential threat to the national interests of the regional countries.
Special emphasis is given to Tajik co-operation and collaboration with Afghan authorities, the US and EU countries. We also maintain co-operation within international and regional organisations and security frameworks, namely, the United Nations, the OSCE, the Shanghai Co-operation organisation, and the Collective Security Treaty Organisation, of which Tajikistan is a member. Our priority for Afghan foreign policy is ensuring peace and security, as well as independent development in Afghanistan. We once again call on the international community to seek a compromise that meets the interests of security and stability in Afghanistan and beyond.
Looking beyond, then, what is the current state of relations with China and Russia?
Tajik-Chinese relations are a bright example of partnership, successful co-operation and regional collaboration. They are agreed on the agreement of good-neighbourliness, friendship and co-operation between the two countries.
We have dynamically increased trade and economic co-operation with China over recent years, and today, china is among leading trade partners of Tajikistan. More than 200 Chinese companies are currently engaged in the Tajik market.
As for our relationship with the Russian Federation, it continues to be a relationship of strategic partnership. We have co-operation that covers almost all areas; namely political, economic, military, cultural and humanitarian. Russian continues to remain a major trade partner for our country.
In general, we consider Tajikistan’s relations with these two countries as positive, and we hope we can jointly enrich them in terms of economic and cultural aspects.
Can you give some information on the 5th regional Co-operation Conference on Afghanistan (RECCA V) agenda, and its expected outcomes?
The international community takes care on post-war recovery in Afghanistan, but we need to identify specified areas and frameworks of such recovery, and make sure they consist of concrete projects.
Implementation of joint regional projects with Afghanistan being involved could contribute to progress of the region as a whole. RECCA V, which will be held on 26-27 march in Dushanbe, and with representatives from more than 40 counties from over 30 international organisations, is a good opportunity for all to be engaged in.
Participants will evaluate the progress made on the outcomes of the RECCA IV held in Istanbul, and identify new priorities and promising regional projects that are of vital importance for progress in Afghanistan and beyond. Working group sessions are scheduled to be conducted within the conference that will be headlined ‘Contributing to Economic Development through Development of Infrastructure, ‘Strengthening Human Capacity through Promoting Education and Vocational Training’ and ‘Promoting Investments, Trade, Transit and Border Management through Enhancing Co-operation and Co-ordination’.
The substance of the conference is aimed at the soonest economic recovery, socio-economic progress and human capacity-building in Afghanistan, and we hope that RECCA V will make a vital contribution to this.